Garden Watering: Frequently Asked Questions
With gardening comes watering and lots of it. Whether you use an irrigation system or a watering can, consider these tips to help save time, money and conserve water while giving your plants just what they need.
How much water does a garden need?
A good rule of thumb for most plants in vegetable and flower gardens that are planted in the ground (as opposed to containers) is 1 inch of water per week. One inch is enough to give the plant what it needs at the moment, and allow the soil to hold a little in reserve until the next watering. That 1 inch includes rainwater as well as irrigation. Because container plants cannot pull water from deep in the soil like plants in the ground, they will typically need more. Look at the plant and feel the soil—if the plant is wilting or the soil is dry an inch below the surface, it needs water. Because of the variable conditions in containers (type of plant, soil ingredients, material the container is made of, etc.) it is impossible to give a recommendation for a watering schedule.
How is an inch of water measured?
Just like the weather reporter measures it...with a rain gauge. An inch of water is a 1-inch deep layer of water over the entire soil surface in question. You can make a rain gauge with a straight-sided container, like a used tuna can. Measure 1 inch up from the bottom and, using a permanent marker, put a line on the inside at that level. Place that can on a level spot in the garden where it will be completely exposed to the rain and/or irrigation. When it’s full to the line, you have your inch of water. If you prefer, you can purchase a fancy rain gauge from a store.
Do plants only need water once a week?
No. A 1-inch single event, whether a storm or a forgotten sprinkler, will not quite do the job. Well-established plants will do well with three “waterings” of 1/3-inch each. New transplants, young seedlings or newly-seeded beds will initially need water up to twice a day to keep the soil from crusting over and to allow the roots time to grow. Gradually work toward that 3 times per week schedule. Always factor in the rain. Skip the irrigation if you get 1/3-inch of rain.
What is the best time of day to water your garden?
Early morning before the sun is up is ideal, or at least while the dew is still on the leaves. At this time of day there will be minimal water loss to evaporation and problems related to long-term wet foliage are avoided. That said, if morning watering is not an option, evening watering is the second best option. Midday watering is not recommended.
What is the best equipment to use to water your garden?
Whatever you have, if used properly. A patio garden may not warrant the cost of a drip irrigation system. Hand watering with a can or water wand on a hose is the most precise way to water only what needs it, if you have the time. Sprinklers or misters are useful for dense plantings. Drip irrigation is great for containers or plants that are spaced a foot or more apart. Soaker hoses can be helpful for level rows of dense plantings or encircling larger plants. If you have a built-in irrigation system, conversions are available to run drip or soaker zones. Know the capabilities of your equipment and be creative.
Giving your garden the right amount of water at the right time is an art to be improved but never perfected. Knowing plant requirements and equipment options will help you create an action plan that will get you off of hose duty and into the lawn chair more quickly.